Travel can be such an enriching experience, even if you’re following a familiar path. Take a little detour and you never know what you’ll find. Like a taste of the Far East in West Branch.
Paige and I were headed north on I-75 from the 313 to the Upper Peninsula after fighting Metro Detroit’s evening rush hour traffic. We’d munched too many pretzels and wasabi peas and peanuts when I saw the billboard for the China Inn in beautiful downtown West Branch. Paige agreed that an egg roll would hit the spot so we pulled off at exit 212.
If we stop in West Branch on our treks up and down I-75 it’s because it’s an easy off/on for gas. This time we drove a few miles past the strip of fast food joints into the heart of the Ogemaw County seat, where flags fluttered in front of the blocks of storefronts.
I was on the lookout for a small carryout joint, so we were surprised to see the grand old hotel building that houses China Inn (and other businesses).
The spacious dining room is accented with Chinese art and lighting fixtures, and the tables are covered in white cloths (and topped with Chinese horoscope placemats, so it’s not too high falutin’). Although we’d just planned on egg rolls-to-go I was tempted by the extensive menu of Chinese Mandarin, Szechuan, Hunan and Cantonese style dishes, and I added an order of egg foo young for the two of us to share. Research, you know.
Even this brief excursion off the beaten path taught me a few things:
- Downtown West Branch is a pleasant surprise. I saw several shops and diners worthy of a return trip during business hours.
- Chinese food is not designed to be eaten in the car. The egg roll was manageable, but it was a challenge chowing down on the egg foo young while driving (hey, at least I wasn’t texting).
- And the food? Reasonably priced and decent, I thought, although I was more focused on driving than the dish. Paige was not enamored of the egg foo young but may be willing to give China Inn another try. Next time, she orders. And we eat in the dining room.
China Inn opened in 1989. The mini-chain of restaurants has three locations: China Inn West in West Branch, which is actually located in the northeast part of Michigan’s mitten, and China Inn North and China Inn South on the west side of the state in Holland.
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